At their core, communities have always been about bringing together like-minded people for a common purpose. And because of that, it’s clear to see why professional associations are primed for building active, flourishing communities that members want to flock to.
But building a thriving community isn’t as simple as selecting a platform and setting up the space. For a community to achieve its fullest potential, association leaders need to understand what inspires people to join, engage, and keep coming back.
Consider any community you’re a part of and what inspires your participation. Chances are that the communities you’re most engaged in are those where you feel comfortable and where you trust your needs will be met. Those communities have most likely shaped their space and experience with one very important thing in mind: fostering a sense of belonging.
Belonging, in short, is a feeling of security and support. It happens when members sense acceptance and feel authenticity. Many factors contribute to belonging, and here we’re sharing six that are consistent across most successful communities.
- Inclusivity. Siloed groups and fragmentation can be some of the biggest barriers to creating a community in which people feel encouraged and inspired to contribute. Inclusive engagement requires space in which no one feels shut out—it creates a welcoming environment, breaks down barriers, and gives everyone an opportunity to participate.
- Psychological Safety. Psychological safety may be one of today’s biggest buzzwords, but it translates simply to trust. Trust is an essential element of community that fosters a sense of security and contributes to feelings of belonging. And when members feel safe and secure sharing in the space you’ve created, it inspires ongoing engagement and long-term commitment.
- Accessibility. By their very nature, online communities offer people with impairments greater opportunities to participate. But too often, people have to hunt for answers to their accessibility questions or ask for accommodations. The most inclusive communities acknowledge and honor all members’ needs by proactively incorporating and clearly communicating accessibility options.
- Empowerment. Sometimes, empowering members is as simple as encouraging their voices by inviting them to participate in events, activities, and conversations—but it pays to go above and beyond encouragement. Deliberately shape experiences that give members the ability to contribute their knowledge and expertise in ways that increase feelings of belonging and recognition. Consider crowdsourcing, think tanks, panels, and roundtables.
- Personalization. There’s perhaps nothing that creates a greater sense of belonging than an experience that feels custom-built to meet your needs. Leverage what you know about your members—from data, analytics, and other insights—to deliver resources, experiences, and connections that are relevant to their interests or help them solve their challenges.
- Connections. One of the top reasons members seek community is to find solutions—and solutions are generated by people. Members know that other professionals have walked in their shoes and have likely experienced similar challenges, making it natural to turn to them for answers, ideas, support, and inspiration. Enabling members to find and connect with one another strengthens these important networks.
Each time members connect with your association and each other, their sense of belonging should grow stronger. With an inclusive, safe, and accessible community that empowers members and puts resources and connections within reach, you can also expect their engagement and commitment to grow stronger.